Senior Retrospective: Rhys Johnson

Unlike some of my more gifted friends, I have never been blessed with a particularly vivid memory. During conversations with fellow seniors about our time here, I have found myself painting my recollections of Vassar in broad, impressionistic strokes while they do so with photographic ease. Friends and peers of mine, with several of whom I will forever share these pages, seem ever equipped with an arsenal of memories and anecdotes that define the lives they made here, and I have no doubt that it will serve them well in the future. If my experience as a History major has taught me anything, it is that there is no substitute for direct example.

Unfortunately, while I shall do my best to color inside the lines, I can make no such promises; the old adage about people eventually forgetting the particulars but remembering their feelings is my only defense. On the other hand, I feel that in this regard I have, for once, showed up early to the party. A broader sense of my life at Vassar—indeed, an impression—seems all but formed for myself now, here at its end. It is by no means an impartial account, but it is mine.

Though I’ve never been particularly welcoming to change, I find that my undergraduate career has been one largely defined by it. Perhaps most noticeably, I came to Vassar from a fairly privileged background, and my past ignorance of the many of the social and political ills I hope to spend my career fighting to remedy becomes clearer every day. Who I was as a student of the Hun School of Princeton feels all the more known to me now, having been a student of Vassar College and, more importantly, having been a member of its intellectual community. Vassar is a place that, for better or worse, has challenged my latent assumptions of the world, and I know that I will leave a far more conscious, empathetic and principled person than I came.

To this end, I think it worth iterating the political beliefs I carry with me beyond Vassar—to stand in solidarity with those who share my opinions but also to set in stone those which have come to define how I interact with the world around me: I stand for equality of opportunity and the need for the expansion of the social safety net, not its dismantlement; I stand for a universal Medicare-for-All system, for health care is and must be recognized as a right, not a commodity; I stand for a federal minimum wage that is a living wage tied to inflation; I believe in the fight against racism and stand against all forms of bigotry and identity-based violence; I stand firmly against the evil of money in politics, that corrupting issue which plagues all other issues; I condemn the imperialist actions of both parties in power, and urge our representatives in government to cease engaging in unnecessary and unethical military aggression around the world. I believe in social democratic ideals, and my arrival at this stage in my political life is part of a larger process of personal growth that I know will take up roots elsewhere once I have graduated.

In my personality, in how I conduct myself and in how I approach the social relationships that have also come to define my identity here at Vassar, I owe most everything to a select few individuals, whose importance in these formative years of mine I shall here attempt to sketch. I owe Talya Phelps more than I can hope to express within a word limit, and her boundless strength, intelligence and sympathy have enriched my life in so many more ways than not. Much of the person I am now was formed with her counsel, and were it not for her enduring sense of empathetic concern and admirable ability to sniff out my true feelings on the challenges and opportunities I have faced in the last two years, the person in whose shoes I graduate today would be far different. Together, we have overcome every obstacle thrown at us. The challenges we both will face next year and beyond will be manifold—I admit, I tremble slightly at the thought of a couple simultaneously enduring 1L AND a senior year that includes serving as Editor-in-Chief of the Misc and writing a thesis—but I know we will tackle them as we always have: both individually and as a truly redoubtable pair. Talya, just as an old Editor-in-Chief could ask for no better Design Editor than you, I can ask for no better partner now and in the times ahead than you—nor shall I.

Another whom I met through the Misc deserves particular mention in my personal development at Vassar: Christopher Brown. Chris, as you and I recently discussed during one of our infrequent yet inevitable reunions, we spent hours together every night for the better part of a year. I could walk the path to your TH doorstep blindfolded—and, yes, on many occasions I might as well have done so—and in retracing this path for old times’ sake, I realized how much growing I did during and, more importantly, between those walks to and from your house. You have been the closest thing to a brother I have had, and we will always be family.

More broadly, to the multiple generations of Misc-ers with whom I have served from my time as a rather underwhelming but dedicated first-year Reporter to my tenure as Editor-in-Chief: I am forever indebted to you for the countless lessons our work together has taught me. From Marie, Chris, Palak, Noble, Josh, Zach, and, of course, my dear sister Bethan, I was given the chance to learn from the best; without them, nothing I did for this paper would have been possible. Likewise, the complete turnover I have witnessed in my four years at the Misc has brought into my life such incredible and talented individuals as Talya, Charlotte, Noah, Eilís, and Mack, among many others. As I prepare to leave this place, the spirits of our shared journalistic past and future crowd around me, and I feel at peace with them. Indeed, no matter what the gadflies may say, the paper could not be in better hands.

Joshua Austin, my eternal roommate and fellow lover of long walks and longer talks: Your companionship through times thick and thin has been one of the great and unusual joys of my college experience. You too, I am sure, could never be a stranger to me.

To the professorial mentors who have imparted wisdom and friendship upon me that no classroom can adequately teach—James Merrell, Eugenio Giusti, Michael Pisani, Kathryn Libin, Brian Mann and Nancy Bisaha—I can only hope that my career ahead produces such fruitful labors as those with which you have challenged me to grow as a student and as a person. Thank you all for these most crucial roles you have played in my development, and I intend not to disappoint.

And lastly, to my family near and far, whose passionate and critical engagement with the world around them is a continual source of inspiration and a force to be reckoned with: You have all supported me unwaveringly throughout this formative time—most particularly Bethan, whose love and guidance made the teething process of my first year at Vassar far more manageable—and I am endlessly grateful to each of you for it. While this moment in time signals the end of many things, it is also the beginning of many beautiful things that we will soon share. I look forward to seeing where life takes us during my legal studies, which I am sure will be its own process of transfiguration.

As promised, the landscape of my feelings toward Vassar is a rocky, terraneous one. It is a collection of friendships and stages of personal development, one with which I hope not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. As time goes on, the particulars of this terrain will shift; some memories will stay, others will go and more still may emerge. Like a palimpsest, and one whose early underwritings remain to be uncovered, I am yet early in my understanding of what I have done and been a part of here. As I pass through life, new journeys will color my perceptions, but I welcome these continued efforts to understand myself and the past. After all, while I will soon begin to learn the law, I will always be a student of history.

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